As the sister of a Cub Scout and daughter of an Eagle Scout, Jenna Scalia’s Scouting story begins in a familiar way.
After years spent on the outside looking in, she finally got a chance in early 2019 to join the organization that means so much to her and her family.
But like all Scouts in this program where young people get to choose their own adventures, Jenna’s journey is uniquely hers.
As she prepares to join the Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts today, Jenna shares what she learned as a Scout, how we can recruit more young people into Scouting and what she’d tell other girls who are wondering whether the BSA is for them.
“Girls, a new era is rising,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to do something that will change your life. Don’t question your strength or your willpower. Just do it. You’ll never know how far you’ll go if you don’t try.”
Why she joined
Sometimes December 2018 feels like a lifetime ago; other times it feels like just yesterday.
That month, Jenna was at her little brother’s blue and gold banquet when a leader asked if she wanted to make history by starting a Scouts BSA troop for girls the following year.
“I couldn’t refuse,” she says. “It was when it all began, and my life was forever changed.”
Jenna and her younger sister, Alyssa, became founding members of Troop 495 of Kent Island, Md., part of the BSA’s Del-Mar-Va Council.
Jenna admits that she wasn’t super enthusiastic as the date of the first Troop 495 meeting approached. As one of the older girls in the troop, she figured she’d take on a leadership role and “go on trips every now and then.”
But when she buttoned up that uniform shirt and arrived at the Elks Lodge, something clicked.
“I took a chance when I entered Scouting. It wasn’t until our first meeting that I had that true desire to make Eagle,” she says. “After the meeting, I consider it an awakening for myself when I say that I never wanted anything more than to make Eagle.”
So what happened? Part of it was the support group around her — instant friends that just seemed to get her.
Before joining, Jenna figured the trail to Eagle would be a solitary hike up a very steep mountain.
“I thought I would have to figure everything out by myself even if I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “If it weren’t for my troop, the committee, the other troops, the parents and my family, I wouldn’t be at the level that I am at right now.
“Everyone’s faith in me and their hard work has pushed me to want to do better and earn this for not only myself, but for them, too.”
Skills she learned
Jenna says Scouting imparts important intangibles like patience, leadership and reverence.
But our movement also teaches skills that are very much tangible. These are skills that could save someone’s life, simplify a difficult task or even just impress others on a camping trip with family friends.
“I learned how to tie the most reliable knots, how to build shelters from nothing, how to purify water, how to find my way without a compass, how to treat the worst injuries, and how to cook without a pot or pan,” Jenna says.
She also learned how to plan a giant service project from scratch. For her Eagle Scout service project, Jenna built a rain garden at her community’s American Legion post.
“I learned how to lead a project, present ideas and take constructive criticism,” she says. “It was a difficult, but well-worth-it, task to complete.”
Planning an Eagle project is difficult enough. Planning it during a pandemic increases the difficulty exponentially. She was a month into planning when, on her 17th birthday (March 12, 2020), she learned that “we would be home for the two weeks that turned into the rest of the year.”
She had to change project locations and beneficiaries three times because of COVID. But she persisted.
“It closed many doors for me, but a few more opened,” she says.
Recruiting others to join Scouting
Jenna wears her Scout uniform with pride, but when talking to other young people about why she enjoys being a Scout, she also explains what the uniform doesn’t mean.
“I think people need to see that, just because we wear a uniform and follow core principles, that it is not a program just for serious people,” she says. “Scouting is a fun and enlightening environment that welcomes everyone and anyone to participate and be a part of. Sure, there are times we have to be serious, but that comes out of our own will to work for what we want to achieve.”
Recruiting girls offers its own challenges, Jenna says.
“We need to make it more clear that girls are welcome,” she says. “Some people are hesitant because they think their daughters will be in a boys troop. The more we spread the word, the more girls troops will be established, and the boys will still have their own space.”
Most of all, though, Jenna wants people to know that Scouting volunteers, like those of you reading this very post, are appreciated for all the work you do.
Your job may be unpaid, but it does come with rewards. When you see young people like Jenna become exceptional Scouts with bright futures, all those hours are worth it.
“It means the world to us for you to support us and help us out,” Jenna says. “It’s people like you that make us work harder to achieve this great accomplishment.”